DALLAS - A federal prosecutor and the attorney for the lead defendant in the terror-support trial of five Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) officers traded accusations of deception Monday during closing arguments.
When federal prosecutor Barry Jonas accused the defendants of trying to deceive the American public, he pointed to their own conversations captured on surveillance tapes.
"War is deception," former HLF President Shukri Abu Baker said during a secret gathering of Hamas supporters in 1993.
Defense attorney Nancy Hollander, in turn, appealed to distrust of the government and challenged evidence presented by an Israeli security witness who testified under a pseudonym.
Jonas reminded jurors that investigators found a security manual with instructions how to avoid detection at one of the defendant's offices and that HLF officers used the word "Samah" rather than HAMAS in their conversations. In 2000, they had their office swept for bugs.
"Is this what a real charity would do?" Jonas asked repeatedly.
He pointed to Baker's 2002 sworn declaration in which he claimed to "reject and abhor Hamas, its goals and its methods" as part of a civil suit. But Baker also published an ode to Hamas in the Arabic publication Ila Filastin. "Hayzum (Gabriel's horse) Hamas has arrived," it concludes, "and we will not accept any other than Hamas." The poem was followed by a solicitation for donations to the Occupied Land Fund, HLF's original name.
Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh are charged in a 36-count indictment with providing material support to HAMAS. Closing arguments continue today after six weeks of the trial. Prosecutors say they funneled more than $12 million to the Specially Designated Terrorist group, largely through charity organizations in the West Bank and Gaza called zakat committees.
Jonas referred jurors to exhibits showing various zakat committees and the hundreds of thousands of dollars HLF sent to each of them.
He also showed video tapes and played audio intercepts showing the defendants knew of Hamas' violent objectives and that they supported them. From that secret Philadelphia meeting, called to discuss ways to "derail" the nascent Oslo Peace accord, to fundraising tours featuring speeches by Hamas members and affiliates to entertainment the defendants organized including songs praising Hamas and skits in which one pretends to kill an Israeli.
Defense attorneys say the men provided basic sustenance - food, education, medicine - to Palestinians living in desperate poverty.
That support, though, was a key component in efforts to win Palestinian hearts and minds for Hamas, Jonas said. The Hamas charter, which never has been amended, still demands the state of Israel's destruction. Works by its social wing are merely "a means to an end," Jonas said.
None of the zakat committees HLF worked with have been designated as terrorist fronts by the government, Hollander said in her closing. She noted the volume of groups, individuals and businesses which have been - including HLF - and said the absence of any zakat committee designation meant the government could not prove the group was controlled by Hamas.
Jonas anticipated the argument and drew an analogy that should connect with the Texas jurors. If the government labeled the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones as Specially Designated Terrorists, could you send money for the offensive line to buy equipment, he asked?
"Of course not," he said. "They're still part of the team."
He also reviewed internal documents which show HLF was part of a Muslim Brotherhood consortium in the United States called the "Palestine Committee." Other committee members included the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) and a think-tank called the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR). After participants at the Philadelphia meeting discussed the need for a new, neutral organization to lobby the U.S. government, the Council on American-Islamic Relations was born, Jonas said.
Meeting minutes from a 1994 gathering of the Palestine Committee list CAIR next to the IAP, HLF and the UASR.
When it was her turn, Hollander attacked the prosecution for presenting what she described as a misleading case. They failed to prove that the zakat committees were Hamas controlled and failed to prove HLF donations benefited Hamas. Prosecutors emphasized Hamas violence to try to scare jurors, she said.
She pointed out a couple of translation errors in government transcripts and accused prosecutors of hiding evidence that put the defendants' in a more understanding light.
Edward Abington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, visited a number of the zakat committees and never heard that they were controlled by Hamas, Hollander said. He had access to U.S. intelligence reports and all open source information. Abington, Hollander said, opposes Hamas and testified voluntarily. He "is about as credible a witness as you're ever going to get."
She acknowledges Baker did use the word Samah instead of Hamas, but ascribed that to a background in countries where saying the wrong thing can get you in trouble with the government.
"It appears we've become like those countries because now these words have come back to haunt them," she said of the defendants.
And Hollander made a pitch for reasonable doubt.
"If anything, one thing makes you hesitate" on the government's evidence, she said, "that's all the doubt you need to find Shukri [Abu Baker] not guilty."
Prosecutors will get to rebut the defense arguments after all the attorneys have spoken. Jonas already pointed to several exhibits which he said show the zakat committees' Hamas links and said defense attorneys were trying to distract jurors by invoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"For over 13 years the defendants deceived the American public that they were a legitimate charity," Jonas said. In reality, they were part of a larger plan to support Hamas' violent jihad.
It wasn't just critics who figured it out. Jonas pointed out a donation which came with a handwritten letter, urging HLF to use the money "for relief supplies + weapons to crush the hated enemy." Rather than laugh the donor off, HLF kept the money and added his name to its mailing list, Jonas said.
"Don't let the defendants deceive you that what they did they did was to support widows and orphans. What they did in supporting Hamas created widows and orphans," Jonas said.